Release Date: Mar 1, 2019
Record label: Saddle Creek Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
placeholder, the album's opener and title track, is one of those songs. Lulling you in with a rising, instantly familiar chord progression and a shaggy drumbeat, it's less a song than a heat shimmer. But stunning moments of clarity find their way through the haze; the tightly-wound coils of squalling guitar--equal parts Nels Cline and Neil Young--or the gorgeous way the melody shifts with the song's narrative, as Meg Duffy sings of their former lover being "a placeholder, blinded by desire".
Only someone as earnest and forthright as Meg Duffy would title an album placeholder and it not be a joke. In fact, their second album as Hand Habits is so loaded with thought and feeling that the idea that placeholder is a quite funny title did not occur until at least a dozen listens in. Listening to Hand Habits' new record is to wreathe yourself in mental indecision and insecurity, but from the inside of Duffy's creations the feeling is one of relief; you are imbued with the knowledge that these are universal struggles, and that in itself is beautiful.
Meg Duffy's work under the moniker Hand Habits extracts the most precise and aesthetically pleasing attributes of her guitar work contributions to the likes of Kevin Morby (who Duffy has spent the last three years with as supporting lead guitarist) and The War on Drugs— this is where the similarities stop, though. Duffy's latest full-length album, placeholder, is a lethargic collection of breezy soft rock, one that's free of excess— besides the minute of glitchy oblivion on "heat," though it still fits in rather snugly— and instead a direct and addictive batch of songs that will shatter your heart one minute and help you pick up the pieces a few minutes later. On "pacify," one of the album's most memorable moments, Duffy incorporates each of placeholder's exact highlights— gentle, infinitely melodic acoustic guitars, and a richly layered aesthetic that is well defined and easily identifiable.
On placeholder, the second album from Meg Duffy's Hand Habits, the singer/songwriter orbits a stinging absence, ruminating on the ephemeral nature of emotional attachment. Characters pass through placeholder like silhouettes on the horizon; as Duffy watches them go, these songs weave narratives around the space they leave behind. What's a love story with only half the cast? A plaintive consideration of the ways people shape each other, even in disappearance.